Chicago’s Top Federal Prosecutor to Stay in Office, For Now: Durbin, Duckworth

U.S. Attorney John Lausch appears on “Chicago Tonight” on Nov. 13, 2019. (WTTW News)U.S. Attorney John Lausch appears on “Chicago Tonight” on Nov. 13, 2019. (WTTW News)

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth announced Tuesday that President Joe Biden has agreed to keep John Lausch, Chicago’s top federal prosecutor, in office until a permanent replacement is confirmed.

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The joint statement from the two Democratic senators cited a report from the Chicago Sun-Times that was not immediately confirmed by the Department of Justice or Lausch’s office.

In an unusually public dispute between leading Democrats, both senators called on Biden to reverse his decision to ask Lausch to resign no later than Sunday along with the rest of the U.S. attorneys appointed by former President Donald Trump.

“We are pleased the Biden Administration is acting on our request to retain U.S. Attorney Lausch until his successor is confirmed by the Senate,” Durbin and Duckworth wrote. “Mr. Lausch has served with professionalism and without partisanship.  While the President has the right to remove U.S. Attorneys, there is precedent for U.S. Attorneys in the Northern District of Illinois to remain in office to conclude sensitive investigations.  After our repeated calls, we appreciate that Mr. Lausch will be given this opportunity.”

Hours before the apparent about-face by the Biden administration, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called on Biden to allow Lausch to stay while a permanent replacement is selected and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

“I have said to the White House it makes zero sense for John Lausch to be replaced,” Lightfoot said Tuesday morning at an unrelated news conference. “John Lausch has done a yeoman’s job.”

Lausch has done a “tremendous job” helping the city fight a surge in crime, including gun violence and carjackings, Lightfoot said. 

“To replace him at this time I think puts our city at risk,” Lightfoot said, noting that a permanent replacement would not be confirmed until the fall at the earliest. “We can’t be without a permanent head of this office as we head into the summer months when things are most challenging. That makes no sense.”

As the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Lausch oversaw a sprawling corruption investigation that resulted in Commonwealth Edison admitting to arranging jobs, contracts and payoffs to associates of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Some of those employees did little or no work for the company from 2011 to 2019 but were added to the firm’s payroll as part of a scheme to win influence and curry favor with Madigan, given the powerful legislator’s ability to help ComEd advance laws that benefited the company by paving the way for higher electric rates, according to the deferred prosecution agreement.

Although that agreement refers to Madigan as Public Official A, he has not been charged in connection with the investigation and has said he did nothing wrong. Madigan’s bid for another term as speaker failed in January after dozens of lawmakers refused to support him in the wake of the allegations.

Madigan resigned from the Illinois House on Thursday and as the chair of the Illinois Democratic Party on Monday.

In his last remarks on the matter in July, Lausch said the investigation was “vibrant.”

In addition, Ald. Ed Burke (14th Ward) is awaiting trial on 14-count indictment that alleges he repeatedly — and brazenly — used his powerful position at City Hall to force those doing business with the city to hire his private law firm.

Burke has pleaded not guilty to charges of racketeering, bribery and extortion. The racketeering charges — usually brought against members of the mob or street gangs — allege a pattern of corruption unknown to its victims.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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